TV Review – DRACULA (2020)

Image result for dracula bbc 2020DRACULA (UK, 2020) **
      Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: Hartswood Films / British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) / Netflix; Release Date: 1-3 January 2020; Running Time: 3 x 90m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Atmos; Film Format: HD; Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1; BBFC Cert: 15.
      Director: Jonny Campbell, Paul McGuigan, Damon Thomas; Writer: Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat (based on the novel by Bram Stoker); Producer: Ben Irving, Larry Tanz, Sue Vertue; Executive Producer: Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat, Ben Irving, Sue Vertue; Director of Photography: Tony Slater Ling; Music Composer: David Arnold, Michael Price; Film Editor: Colin Fair, Tom Hemmings, Paulo Pandolpho; Production Designer: Arwel Jones; Art Director: Harry Trow; Casting: Kate Rhodes James; Costumes: Harriet Ferris; Make-up: Dave Elsey, Lou Elsey; Sound: Doug Sinclair; Special Effects Supervisor: Paul Dunn; Visual Effects Producer: George Tully.
      Cast: Claes Bang (Count Dracula), Dolly Wells (Sister Agatha Van Helsing/Dr. Zoe Van Helsing), John Heffernan (Jonathan Harker), Morfydd Clark (Mina Harker), Joanna Scanlan (Mother Superior), Lujza Richter (Elena), Jonathan Aris (Captain Sokolov), Sacha Dhawan (Dr. Sharma), Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (Adisa), Catherine Schell (Duchess Valeria), Youssef Kerkour (Olgaren), Clive Russell (Valentin), Natasha Radski (Mother), Lydia West (Lucy Westenra), Matthew Beard (Jack Seward), Mark Gatiss (Frank Renfield), Lyndsey Marshal (Bloxham), Chanel Cresswell (Kathleen), Sarah Niles (Meg), Phil Dunster (Quincey Morris).
      Synopsis: In 1897 Transylvania, the blood-drinking Count draws his plans against Victorian London.
      Comment: Adaptations can go one of two ways. Either a faithful representation of the source material or a completely different take. So, what to make of Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat’s take on Dracula? It seems to me that it tries to be all things to all people and will therefore likely end up disappointing most. Why? Moffat, in particular, for some-time now has been trying to be too smart in his writing, going for showstopping revelation after show-stopping revelation. He brings that thinking to Dracula as the adaptation veers increasingly further away from its source material as it painfully slowly progresses the narrative. The story is divided into three distinct sections across the three episodes. the first deals with Jonathan Harker’s visit to Castle Dracula and the horrific discoveries he makes there. the second with Dracula’s voyage to England and the third with the ultimate showdown in London. Gatiss is an ardent fan of the horror genre and of Hammer films in particular. His influence is seen at its greatest in the atmospheric first episode, which for the most part establishes a truly gothic and horrific setting. The problem is that after this promising opener, the second episode stalls during the interminable and repetitive voyage, with Dracula picking off the crew one by one, before it finally veers off the rails completely in the third episode by moving the action to a modern-day setting. The result is jarring and neither does justice to Stoker nor succeeds as a post-modern interpretation. Gatiss and Moffat’s vision comes across as two writers trying to be overly smart without the needed controlling hand to challenge their increasingly wild ideas.  It’s a shame because there is a lot to commend the production from a technical standpoint and in the charismatic performances of Bang and Wells – if you can accept both in their wise-cracking characterisations. Viewers not familiar with the Dracula legacy both in print and on-screen may find much to enjoy, but those more acquainted with Stoker or Lugosi or Lee will likely see the smugness of the characters as an unnecessary enhancement. For me, I finished the viewing experience having enjoyed aspects, mostly those which steered a closer course to my ideal, but was frustrated by the liberties taken with the material and the looseness and laziness of some of the writing –  the close of episode two with Dracula emerging from the sea after over one hundred years only to find a police task force and helicopter waiting is written for effect without a care for logic. Stronger editing could have condensed this self-indulgent and bloated misfire into something leaner and more efficient. A shorter piece would have made the viewing experience much more rewarding and avoided a lot of the repetitiveness. Four and a half hours of Gatiss and Moffat’s trying to demonstrate how clever they are as writers to me detracted from the core story and whilst their vision for Dracula can be seen as a brave attempt to do something different it strays too far from the novel and legacy to be satisfying.

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